Biology Lesson Four: Dealing with ADHD

Biology Lesson Four: Dealing with ADHD

Biology Lesson Four: Dealing with ADHD


Students study the causes of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and come up with proposals for how to deal with it in their school. The intention is to get students to realise that there is uncertainty about what causes ADHD and how best to ‘treat’ it.

Suggested content (to be adapted as appropriate for the specific learners/class being taught)

Students are to consider why ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder occurs and to produce an action plan to deal with ADHD in their own school. Before the lesson – e.g. for homework – ask the students to research why ADHD has a much higher prevalence in the USA than in France. This will help them get to grips with ADHD if they don't already know much about it. Of course, one or more of the students in the group may themselves have been diagnosed with ADHD. Even if none of them has, it is extremely likely that at least some of them will know students diagnosed as having ADHD. This can be an advantage for the lesson – in terms of expertise – but obviously sensitivity is needed.

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorderand is primarily characterised by inappropriate impulsiveness.Impulsiveness is bound to have an inherited component; practically every interesting human behaviour is likely to have an inherited component without human behaviours generally being genetically determined to the extent and as straightforwardly as certain medical conditions (e.g. sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis) can be.

From an evolutionary perspective, the high frequency with which ADHD occurs suggests one of a number of possible explanations. One possibility is that the condition is an epiphenomenon, perhaps the result of features of today’s environments that simply were not found in our ancestral past. A second possibility is that at different times in human history and in different places and for certain individuals ADHD was advantageous whereas elsewhere and at other times and for other individuals it wasn’t.

After the students have done their homework, it would be worth having a plenary about their ideas as to why ADHD has a much higher prevalence in the USA than in France and then to broaden this as to why ADHD occurs at all: possibilities include genetics; practices during child development; and certain home or school environments (ADHD is unusual as a condition in that diagnosis is most often made in the context of schooling). Students should then in groups produce an action plan to deal with ADHD in their own school.

The standard model of schooling in many countries in which 20 or more young people of the same age are taught in classrooms for about five hours a day, five days a week, 180 days of the year for ten or more years from age five or six is profoundly unnatural. Though it is difficult to be sure how children learnt during our evolutionary history, it clearly cannot have been like this. Today’s schooling therefore favours some young people at the expense of others, including those with ADHD.

A related point is that schools, especially primary ones, can be seen as feminised institutions, with the large majority of teachers in such schools being women. ADHD predominantly affects males with childhood and adolescent ADHD male:female identification ratios varying from 3 in Norway to 16 in Austria. It is likely that some schools typically favour the sorts of fairly passive, acquiescent behaviours that society all-too-often deems particularly appropriate for females.

In a rare study that examined the views of children with ADHD ( it was found that in both the UK and the USA, children wanted more treatment options outside of medication but that these were not available.

Internationally, the identification and understanding of ADHD vary greatly. in 2012, at least 9% of school-aged children in the USA were diagnosed with ADHD; the corresponding figure for France was less than 0.5%. Furthermore, the preferred treatment in France is psychotherapy or family counselling, not the use of medication such as Ritalin or Adderall, as it is in the USA, as the underlying issue is presumed to be in the child’s social context rather than imbalances in their chemistry.

A recent study showed that in Taiwan the likelihood of a child being diagnosed with ADHD is related to the month of birth. 2.8% of boys born in September are diagnosed as having the condition; for boys born in August, the figure is 4.5%. For girls the corresponding figures are 0.7% and 1.2%. Comparable findings exist in other countries. It seems likely that at least some diagnoses conflate ADHD with immaturity.